By Tess Massey
For the Opelika
In response to the devastating tornadoes that affected Lee County on March 3, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the U.S. Small Business Administration are on hand to offer assistance to those in need.
According to FEMA spokesman Mike Wade, there are two disaster recovery centers open in Lee County. Initially, four mobile intake centers opened throughout Lee County in response to the tornadoes. Those have since closed, but the other two will be open until they are no longer needed.
“Those centers are our FEMA individual assistance centers,” Wade said. “They will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. seven days a week.”
The two centers are located at Providence Baptist Church, 2807 Lee County Road 166, Opelika, and Mount Olive Baptist Church, 784 County Road 298, Smiths Station. The Smiths Station location is operating on Eastern Standard Time.
Wade explained that the centers will allow registration for FEMA assistance, but will also allow those who have registered to sit down face-to-face with FEMA personnel. As of last week, 471 households had applied for assistance, and $658,606 has been distributed, or is in the process of being distributed by FEMA, Wade said.
“If you have a question, you can sit down with one of our disaster survivor assistants,” he said. “They can look at your file and tell you the complete status about what’s going on with it.”
For those who have registered, Wade said they may receive a call from an inspector who needs to validate any damage they have reported to FEMA. Wade noted that most of the inspectors are contractors, therefore that call from an out-of-state area code, which deters some people from answering.
“It’s imperative to get in touch with that inspector,” He said. “If they can’t inspect the property, the file is put on hold until they can get that done.”
Additionally, those who have had an inspection or do not require one will receive a letter or an email stating their eligibility.
“If people are not eligible, that’s usually where people stop reading that letter or email,” Wade said. “I would urge people to read the whole letter, because it will explain to them what the problem is. A lot of instances it’s because they’ve let us know they have insurance. FEMA cannot duplicate any benefits they get from the insurance company. They have to show us what they actually received from the insurance company so that we can help them with any assistance.”
Wade added that assistance determinations are made based on family makeup and need. If applicants are denied assistance through the determination letter, they are able to appeal the decision.
“It’s important that they bring that letter [to a recovery center] and sit in front of someone who can take a look and see why they may not be eligible,” he said.
If a determination is appealed, Wade said documentation must be provided as to why they didn’t receive what they thought they should have through FEMA.
“Sometimes we will provide x amount of dollars to make repairs, and make their home safe in the interim,” he said. “If they feel they didn’t receive enough money to make those repairs, they will need to provide a contractor estimate to show why FEMA didn’t provide enough money.”
Although some individuals and businesses may not believe they qualify for FEMA assistance, Wade urges them to go ahead and apply.
“If they sustained damage, it doesn’t hurt a thing for them to register, then go from there,” he said. “Ultimately the households are responsible for their recovery. We are here to assist them in that endeavor.”
In addition to FEMA personnel at the recovery centers, Wade said that the SBA will be available to provide low interest loans to homeowners, renters and business owners.
“SBA will join FEMA and the State in serving the public at the newly announced disaster recovery centers,” said Karen Knapik, SBA Public Affairs Specialist. “In addition, SBA opened a Business Recovery Center at Southern Union State Community College.” Knapik said that the SBA will have a full team at each location so that applicants can work one-on-one with SBA customer service representatives to the make the application process easy.
“It is a more satisfying way to apply, in that you can ask questions and have someone explain the process to you,” Knapik said. “The SBA encourages everyone to visit one of the two centers and seek this personal help as soon as possible. People are going to need money to recover and the SBA is a below market way to get some.”
According to Knapik, the SBA is the provider for large funds that can help communities bounce back from disasters.
“In partnership with FEMA and insurance, SBA offers Homeowners and Renters assistance with loans starting at 2.063% to replace their disaster damaged personal property, vehicles, etc., and then help homeowners repair, rebuild or replace their real estate property.
And of course there are our loans for businesses. The SBA knows the whole community has to come back, so we offer physical damage and working capital loans to businesses starting at 4 percent.”
In addition, Knapik said that homeowners who have insurance should apply as soon as possible, to allow the SBA to provide immediate funds for repair or rebuilding. This will allow the SBA time to work with Insurance companies. Knapik said once a settlement is reached, the settlement will pay off the SBA loan and any leftover is a “gap,” which the SBA was originally designed to cover.
For those seeking assistance without insurance, Knapik said they should come to the SBA as well.
“We are not a bank, and our loans don’t have any fees or points, and the rates/terms offered almost always beat any currently available.”
Knapik also added that if the SBA makes an offer of a loan, it does not have to be accepted.
“Simply put the approval on hold by working with your loan officer,” she said. “That way an approved loan just waiting for the applicant in case they need it.”
The deadline to apply for an SBA loan for physical damage is May 6, 2019, and for economic injury is December 5, 2019. The SBA loan process can also be completed online at https://disasterloan.sba.gov/ela. For questions before, during and after the application process, the SBA can be reached at 1-800-659-2955 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
The deadline to register for FEMA assistance is May 6, 2019. Wade said that you cannot file after the deadline, unless those affected can show circumstances that prevented them from applying during the registration period.
In addition to the registration centers, those affected can go apply online at www.disasterassistance.gov or call 1-800-621-FEMA.
A workshop will be held March 21 at 6 p.m. at Pierce Chapel Church which is located at 8685 Highway 51 in Opelika. Representatives from the Lee County EMA, FEMA and SBA, local county commissioners and the American Red Cross will be present to answer disaster related questions and inform citizens about benefits. Citizens are urged to attend the workshop.